CHESTERTOWN - In July 1959, not long after moving into town and taking a job teaching in the local elementary school, Jim Searles' friends were all firefighters, so he decided to join them, Searles recalled Tuesday.
"Everybody I knew belonged to the company, and my father was a fireman in his hometown of Moriah," Searles said. "So I decided to join my new friends in Chestertown and be a part of the local tradition."
Since those days, when Dwight Eisenhower was still the U.S. president, Jim Searles, now 77, has been an active member of the fire company without interruption.
Searles' daughter Pamela recalled Monday her father dashing away from a home-cooked dinner or family activity to save someone else's house.
"When he left to fight a fire, it seemed he was gone a long time," she said.
Whether it was leaving his job to ride an ambulance to save someone's life, or postponing his own interests to fight a fire, Searles was there attending to his neighbors' needs for a half century, Chestertown Fire Chief Jack Crossman said.
"It's great he's got 50 years in - that he has dedicated so much of his time to volunteer service," said Crossman, Searles' son-in-law. "I'm very proud of him, the way he's served the community for this long,"
Searles' daughter Robin recalled Tuesday how as a child, she and Pamela would hear the fire siren shriek, and they'd scurry and set out his boots and hat so he could be on duty as fast as possible.
"And when he wasn't around, as kids we'd play with his equipment," she recalled.
Searles said he was happy to serve not only as a fireman and on the ambulance crews for about 20 years, but as a fire commissioner for Chestertown as well.
"It's been a long time, a lot has happened, and I've seen a lot of changes - most all of it for the good," he said.